Hegel on Cognition

[The below excerpt up to § 233 was left out from my previous blog: https://foldeskaroly.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/excerpts-from-hegels-encyclopedia-the-logic/]

[a] Cognition proper

§ 226

The universal finitude of Cognition, which lies in the one judgment, the presupposition of the contrast (§ 224) — a presupposition in contradiction of which its own act lodges protest — specialises itself more precisely on the face of its own idea. The result of that specialisation is that its two elements receive the aspect of being diverse from each other, and, as they are at least complete, they take up the relation of ‘reflection’, not of ‘notion’, to one another. The assimilation of the matter, therefore, as a datum, presents itself in the light of a reception of it into categories which at the same time remain external to it, and which meet each other in the same style of diversity. Reason is active here, but it is reason in the shape of understanding. The truth which such Cognition can reach will therefore be only finite: the infinite truth (of the notion) is isolated and made transcendent, an inaccessible goal in a world of its own. Still in its external action cognition stands under the guidance of the notion, and notional principles form the secret clue to its movement.

The finitude of Cognition lies in the presupposition of a world already in existence, and in the consequent view of the knowing subject as a tabula rasa. The conception is one attributed to Aristotle; but no man is further than Aristotle from such an outside theory of Cognition. Such a style of Cognition does not recognise in itself the activity of the notion — an activity which it is implicitly, but not consciously. In its own estimation its procedure is passive. Really that procedure is active.

§ 227

Finite Cognition, when it presupposes what is distinguished from it to be something already existing and confronting it — to be the various facts of external nature or of consciousness — has, in the first place, (1) formal identity or the abstraction of universality for the form of its action. Its activity therefore consists in analysing the given concrete object, isolating its differences, and giving them the form of abstract universality. Or it leaves the concrete thing as a ground, and by setting aside the unessential-looking particulars, brings into relief a concrete universal, the Genus, or Force and Law. This is the Analytical Method.

People generally speak of the analytical and synthetic methods, as if it depended solely on our choice which we pursued. This is far from the case. It depends on the form of the objects of our investigation, which of the two methods that are derivable from the notion of finite cognition ought to be applied. In the first place, cognition is analytical. Analytical cognition deals with an object which is presented in detachment, and the aim of its action is to trace back to a universal the individual object before it. Thought in such circumstances means no more than an act of abstraction or of formal identity. That is the sense in which thought is understood by Locke and all empiricists. Cognition, it is often said, can never do more than separate the given concrete objects into their abstract elements, and then consider these elements in their isolation. It is, however, at once apparent that this turns things upside down, and that cognition, if its purpose be to take things as they are, thereby falls into contradiction with itself. Thus the chemist e.g. places a piece of flesh in his retort, tortures it in many ways, and then informs us that it consists of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, etc. True: but these abstract matters have ceased to be flesh. The same defect occurs in the reasoning of an empirical psychologist when he analyses an action into the various aspects which it presents, and then sticks to these aspects in their separation. The object which is subjected to analysis is treated as a sort of onion from which one coat is peeled off after another.

§ 228

This universality is [b] also a specific universality. In this case the line of activity follows the three ‘moments’ of the notion, which (as it has not its infinity in finite cognition) is the specific or definite notion of understanding. The reception of the object into the forms of this notion is the Synthetic Method.

The movement of the Synthetic method is the reverse of the Analytical method. The latter starts from the individual, and proceeds to the universal; in the former the starting-point is given by the universal (as a definition), from which we proceed by particularising (in division) to the individual (the theorem). The Synthetic method thus presents itself as the development — the ‘moments’ of the notion on the object.

Definition, Division and Theorem
§ 229

[a] When the object has been in the first instance brought by cognition into the form of the specific notion in general, so that in this way its genus and its universal character or speciality are explicitly stated, we have the Definition. The materials and the proof of Definition are procured by means of the Analytical method (§ 227). The specific character however is expected to be a ‘mark’ only: that is to say it is to be in behoof only of the purely subjective cognition which is external to the object.

Definition involves the three organic elements of the notion: the universal or proximate genus (genus proximum), the particular or specific character of the genus (qualitas specifica), and the individual, or object defined. The first question that definition suggests, is where it comes from. The general answer to this question is to say, that definitions originate by way of analysis. This will explain how it happens that people quarrel about the correctness of proposed definitions; for here everything depends on what perceptions we started from, and what points of view we had before our eyes in so doing. The richer the object to be defined is, that is, the more numerous are the aspects which it offers to our notice, the more various are the definitions we may frame of it. Thus there are quite a host of definitions of life, of the state, etc. Geometry, on the contrary, dealing with a theme so abstract as space, has an easy task in giving definitions. Again, in respect of the matter or contents of the objects defined, there is no constraining necessity present. We are expected to admit that space exists, that there are plants, animals, etc., nor is it the business of geometry, botany, etc., to demonstrate that the objects in question necessarily are. This very circumstance makes the synthetic method of cognition as little suitable for philosophy as the analytical: for philosophy has above all things to leave no doubt of the necessity of its objects. And yet several attempts have been made to introduce the synthetic method into philosophy. Thus Spinoza, in particular, begins with definitions. He says, for instance, that substance is the causa sui. His definitions are unquestionably a storehouse of the most speculative truth, but it takes the shape of dogmatic assertions. The same thing is also true of Schelling.

§ 230

[b] The statement of the second element of the notion, i.e. of the specific character of the universal as particularising, is given by Division in accordance with some external consideration.

Division we are told ought to be complete. That requires a principle or ground of division so constituted that the division based upon it embraces the whole extent of the region designated by the definition in general. But, in division, there is the further requirement that the principle of it must be borrowed from the nature of the object in question. If this condition be satisfied, the division is natural and not merely artificial, that is to say, arbitrary. Thus, in zoology, the ground of division adopted in the classification of the mammalia is mainly afforded by their teeth and claws. That is so far sensible, as the mammals themselves distinguish themselves from one another by these parts of their bodies back to which therefore the general type of their various classes is to be traced. In every case the genuine division must be controlled by the notion. To that extent a division, in the first instance, has three members: but as particularity exhibits itself as double, the division may go to the extent even of four members. In the sphere of mind trichotomy is predominant, a circumstance which Kant has the credit for bringing into notice

§ 231

[c] In the concrete individuality, where the mere unanalysed quality of the definition is regarded as a correlation of elements, the object is a synthetic nexus of distinct characteristics. It is a Theorem. Being different, these characteristics possess but a mediated identity. To supply the materials, which form the middle terms, is the office of Construction: and the process of mediation itself, from which cognition derives the necessity of that nexus, is the Demonstration.

As the difference between the analytical and synthetic methods is commonly stated, it seems entirely optional which of the two we employ. If we assume, to start with, the concrete thing which the synthetic method presents as a result, we can analyse from it as consequences the abstract propositions which formed the pre-suppositions and the material for the proof. Thus, algebraical definitions of curved lines are theorems in the method of geometry. Similarly even the Pythagorean theorem, if made the definition of a right-angled triangle, might yield to analysis those propositions which geometry had already demonstrated on is behoof. The optionalness of either method is due to both alike starting from an external presupposition. So far as the nature of the notion is concerned, analysis is prior, since it has to raise the given material with its empirical concreteness into the form of general abstractions, which may then be set in the front of the synthetic method as definitions.

That these methods, however indispensable and brilliantly successful in their own province, are unserviceable for philosophical cognition, is self-evident. They have presuppositions; and their style of cognition is that of understanding, proceeding under the canon of formal identity. In Spinoza, who was especially addicted to the use of the geometrical method, we are at once struck by its characteristic formalism. Yet his ideas were speculative in spirit; whereas the system of Wolf, who carried the method out to the height of pedantry, was even in subject-matter a metaphysic of the understanding.

The abuses which these methods with their formalism once led to in philosophy and science have in modern times been followed by the abuses of what is called ‘Construction’. Kant brought into vogue the phrase that mathematics ‘construes’ its notions. All that was meant by the phrase was that mathematics has not to do with notions, but with abstract qualities of sense-perceptions. The name ‘Construction (construing) of notions’ has since been given to a sketch or statement of sensible attributes which were picked up from perception, quite guiltless of any influence of the notion, and to the additional formalism of classifying scientific and philosophical objects in a tabular form on some presupposed rubric, but in other respects at the fancy and discretion of the observer. In the background of all this, certainly, there is a dim consciousness of the Idea, of the unity of the notion and objectivity — a consciousness too that the idea is concrete. But that play of what is styled ‘construing’ is far from presenting this unity adequately, a unity which is none other than the notion properly so called: a perception is as little the concreteness of reason and the idea.

Another point calls for notice. Geometry works with the sensuous but abstract perception of space; and in space it experiences no difficulty in isolating and defining certain simple analytical modes.

To geometry alone therefore belongs in its perfection the synthetic method of finite cognition. In its course, however (and this is the remarkable point), it finally stumbles upon what are termed irrational and incommensurable quantities; and in their case any attempt at further specification drives it beyond the principle of the understanding. This is only one of many instances in terminology, where the title ‘rational’ is perversely applied to the province of understanding, while we stigmatise as irrational that which shows a beginning and a trace of rationality. Other sciences, removed as they are from the simplicity of space or number, often and necessarily reach a point where understanding permits no further advance: but they get over the difficulty without trouble. They make a break in the strict sequence of their procedure, and assume whatever they require, though it be the reverse of what preceded, from some external quarter — opinion, perception, conception, or any other source. Its inobservancy as to the nature of its methods and their relativity to the subject-matter prevents this finite cognition from seeing that, when it proceeds by definitions and divisions, etc., it is really led on by the necessity of the laws of the notion. For the same reason it cannot see when it has reached its limit; nor, if it have transgressed that limit, does it perceive that it is in a sphere where the categories of understanding, which it still continues rudely to apply, have lost all authority.

§ 232

The necessity which finite cognition produces in the Demonstration is, in the first place, an external necessity, intended for the subjective intelligence alone. But in necessity as such, cognition itself has left behind its presupposition and starting-point, which consisted in accepting its content as given or found. Necessity qua necessity is implicitly the self-relating notion. The subjective idea has thus implicitly reached an original and objective determinateness — a something not-given, and for that reason immanent in the subject. It has passed over into the idea of Will.

The necessity which cognition reaches by means of the demonstration is the reverse of what formed its starting-point. In its starting-point cognition had a given and a contingent content; but now, at the close of its movement, it knows its content to be necessary. This necessity is reached by means of subjective agency. Similarly, subjectivity at starting was quite abstract, a bare tabula rasa. It now shows itself as a modifying and determining principle. In this way we pass from the idea of cognition to that of will. The passage, as will be apparent on a closer examination, means that the universal, to be truly apprehended, must be apprehended as subjectivity, as a notion self-moving, active, and form-imposing.

[b] Volition


The subjective idea as original and objective determinateness, and as a simple uniform content, is the Good. Its impulse towards self-realisation is in its behaviour the reverse of the idea of truth, and rather directed towards moulding the world it finds before it into a shape conformable to its purposed End. This Volition has, on the one hand, the certitude of the nothingness of the presupposed object; but, on the other, as finite, it at the same time presupposes the purposed End of the Good to be a mere subjective idea, and the object to be independent.

§ 234

This action of the Will is finite: and its finitude lies in the contradiction that in the inconsistent terms applied to the objective world the End of the Good is just as much not executed as executed, the end in question put as unessential as much as essential, as actual and at the same time as merely possible. This contradiction presents itself to imagination as an endless progress in the actualising of the Good; which is therefore set up and fixed as a mere ‘ought’, or goal of perfection. In point of form however this contradiction vanishes when the action supersedes the subjectivity of the purpose, and along with it the objectivity, with the contrast which makes both finite; abolishing subjectivity as a whole and not merely the one-sidedness of this form of it. (For another new subjectivity of the kind, that is, a new generation of the contrast, is not distinct from that which is supposed to be past and gone.) This return into itself is at the same time the content’s own ‘recollection’ that it is the Good and the implicit identity of the two sides — it is a ‘recollection’ of the presupposition of the theoretical attitude of mind (§ 224) that the objective world is its own truth and substantiality.

While Intelligence merely proposes to take the world as it is, Will takes steps to make the world what it ought to be. Will looks upon the immediate and given present not as solid being, but as mere semblance without reality. It is here that we meet those contradictions which are so bewildering from the standpoint of abstract morality. This position in its ‘practical’ bearings is the one taken by the philosophy of Kant, and even by that of Fichte. The Good, say these writers, has to be realised: we have to work in order to produce it: and Will is only the Good actualising itself. If the world then were as it ought to be, the action of Will would be at an end. The Will itself therefore requires that its End should not be realised. In these words, a correct expression is given to the finitude of Will. But finitude was not meant to be the ultimate point: and it is the process of Will itself which abolishes finitude and the contradiction it involves. The reconciliation is achieved when Will in its result returns to the presupposition made by cognition. In other words, it consists in the unity of the theoretical and practical idea. Will knows the end to be its own, and Intelligence apprehends the world as the notion actual. This is the right attitude of rational cognition. Nullity and transitoriness constitute only the superficial features and not the real essence of the world. That essence is the notion in posse and in esse: and thus the world is itself the idea. All unsatisfied endeavour ceases, when we recognise that the final purpose of the world is accomplished no less than ever accomplishing itself. Generally speaking, this is the man’s way of looking; while the young imagine that the world is utterly sunk in wickedness, and that the first thing needful is a thorough transformation. The religious mind, on the contrary, views the world as ruled by Divine Providence, and therefore correspondent with what it ought to be. But this harmony between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought to be’ is not torpid and rigidly stationary. Good, the final end of the world, has being, only while it constantly produces itself. And the world of spirit and the world of nature continue to have this distinction, that the latter moves only in a recurring cycle, while the former certainly also makes progress.

§ 235

Thus the truth of the Good is laid down as the unity of the theoretical and practical idea in the doctrine that the Good is radically and really achieved, that the objective world is in itself and for itself the Idea, just as it at the same time eternally lays itself down as End, and by action brings about its actuality. This life which has returned to itself from the bias and finitude of cognition, and which by the activity of the notion has become identical with it, is the Speculative or Absolute Idea.

(c) The Absolute Idea

§ 236

The Idea, as unity of the Subjective and Objective Idea, is the notion of the Idea — a notion whose object (Gegenstand) is the Idea as such, and for which the objective (Objekt) is Idea — an Object which embraces all characteristics in its unity. This unity is consequently the absolute and all truth, the Idea which thinks itself — and here at least as a thinking or Logical Idea.

The Absolute Idea is, in the first place, the unity of the theoretical and practical idea, and thus at the same time the unity of the idea of life with the idea of cognition.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s